The trick to pulling off a dinner party on the fly is the first course: Nail that, and you have everyone at the table in the palm of your hand. This year, my thank-you-Jesus starter (especially appropriate at Easter) has been asparagus mimosa. It is, as my great friend Rick Ellis says, “classic, classic, classic.” It is also absolutely delicious and so easy I could make it in my sleep.
The word mimosa, a fanciful nod to the fluffy mimosa blossoms that punctuate a mild winter in Provence, refers to the delicately textured yellow garnish—hard-boiled egg pushed through a sieve. Spooned on top of just-tender asparagus stalks, I suppose it can look as froufrou as a poodle’s top knot, but don’t you underestimate it for a second. What’s going on is deceptively simple: The richness of the yolk tames, almost seduces, the acidity in a vinaigrette, and, as the egg absorbs the dressing, it turns light and luxe in the mouth. It’s the sort of thing that dazzles people who have never had it before, but please don’t save it for special occasions. It’s an inexpensive way to add a little satisfying protein to a butterhead lettuce salad and more.
In fact, once you wrap your head—and palate—around the concept, the sky’s the limit. Over dinner the other evening, another great friend (and former Gourmet colleague), Paul Grimes, was off and running. “A mimosa topping would be wonderful on a beet salad, with endive—and so beautiful. And on pickled herring and warm potatoes.” He stopped and thought for a split second. “Or what about a tomato salad with a bacon vinaigrette?”
Tomato salad. Oh, I can’t wait for summer.
Adapted from (where else?) Gourmet magazine
2 large eggs
1½ pounds medium asparagus, trimmed and lower part of the stalk peeled
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons Sherry vinegar or tarragon vinegar
1 tablespoon finely chopped shallots
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1. Hard-boil the eggs. You probably have your own method, but I learned this from Paul, and it works for me every time: Put the eggs into a small saucepan and add enough water to cover them by about ½ inch. Bring water to a boil over high heat, then reduce to moderately high; cook eggs at a gentle boil, uncovered, 10 minutes. Pour off the hot water and shake the eggs in the pan (pretend they’re bumper cars) to crack the shells. Run cold water into the pan and let the eggs sit in the water 15 minutes, adding more cold water as necessary to cool down the eggs.
2. Put the asparagus in a large skillet (if the stalks are of varying thicknesses, put the thicker ones in the center) and just cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and add 2 teaspoons salt. Reduce the heat and simmer the asparagus, uncovered, until just tender, 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer the stalks with tongs to a bowl of ice water or to a colander under cold running water. Then transfer them to a clean kitchen towel (not terry cloth) or paper towels and blot dry.
3. Whisk together the vinegar, shallots, mustard, ¼ teaspoon salt, and a few grinds of pepper in a bowl. Gradually whisk in the oil and whisk until emulsified. Peel and halve the eggs lengthwise, then rub them though a medium-mesh sieve into another bowl. Don’t forget that last scraping off the bottom of the sieve.
4. Gently toss the asparagus with a little of the vinaigrette, then divvy it up among 4 plates. Spoon the remaining vinaigrette over the servings. Top each with a spoonful of fluffy egg and think, Spring has truly sprung. Or, thank you, Jesus.